As chair of the Highgate Society, I must share very concerning news of a development threat to our heritage.

The tale of Shepherd's Cottage is steeped in history. A relic from the late 17th Century, it bears witness to a time when livestock roamed Highgate’s sloping pasture lands before their final journey to Smithfield Market.

In 2020, planning permission was granted for seven mews houses in Townsend Yard that would permanently obscure the cottage from public view.

The Highgate Society urged Haringey Council to reduce the scheme by just one house to ensure the cottage remained visible and for fire access. Regrettably, this plea fell on deaf ears.

The future of this historic gem now hangs in the balance.

A fire strategy report was produced to support a recent planning amendment to the development, with three options for fire access put forward in the report - all of them in our opinion are deeply flawed.

Ham & High: William Britain is concerned about the future of Shepherd's CottageWilliam Britain is concerned about the future of Shepherd's Cottage (Image: Highgate Society)

One option was previously dismissed by the London Fire Brigade (LFB). The other options require access from Townsend Yard, however, a lack of turning circles and constrained space in the yard means a fire engine cannot get close enough to the cottage.

Furthermore, fire personnel can only reach it by scaling a high wall and a 1.6m drop to the Cottage's rear garden.  Any occupant of the Cottage would have to do this in reverse to escape!  

What's most concerning is the lack of clarity on responsibility for fire safety - and a lack of transparency. This reminds us of Grenfell.

The LFB, a statutory consultee, have provided fire safety comments which in our view have not been addressed. The LFB has not responded to the council’s repeated requests to clarify its position and has stated that the council and the approved inspector (a building control company appointed by the developer) are responsible for approving the fire safety strategy.

In the meantime, the council has approved the planning amendment and not the fire strategy, which they say is outside their remit. The external approved inspector has confirmed to the council that the fire safety strategy has been approved, but we have no information on how this decision was reached.

As the developer nears completion of the project, the Highgate Society is frustrated and dismayed. Despite our determined advocacy and appeals for sensible solutions, Shepherd’s Cottage has been left in a perilous situation.

  • William Britain is chair of the Highgate Society.